BRADENTON -- Longtime State College of Florida head baseball coach Tim Hill and school President Lars Hafner hatched a plan for Hill’s retirement more than three years ago.
At a news conference Tuesday, Hill executed that plan like one of his players lashing a low liner to right field on a hit and run.
Hill announced he would step down at the end of the upcoming campaign -- the first practice followed the news conference -- and that his son, Tim Hill II, will be his successor.
“When I first came to this college a little bit over three years ago, three major decisions happened within the first couple months I was here,” Hafner said. “... The third decision, and a very critical decision at that point in time, was a conversation and interaction I had with coach Tim Hill about his impending retirement versus continuing on for a couple more years as the baseball coach here.”
Hafner said the conversation led to the duo agreeing Hill would remain to help the school navigate the transition from Manatee Community College to State College of Florida.
Since then, Hill’s clubs have continued qualifying for the state tournament -- the Manatees have made 16 straight appearances, including a state title and JUCO World Series berth in 2010.
Former Lakewood Ranch High standout Josh Russell has been with the program for the past three seasons, having red-shirted as a freshman.
“He (Hafner) wanted him to beat St. Pete, and he did almost every time,” Russell said. “And then he wanted a state championship, which we did. And he wanted to get to Grand Junction (for the JUCO World Series) and we did. Now we just have to do the one thing we’ve never done, which is (win the national title).”
Hill’s standout junior college coaching career got started in 1975 at South Florida Community College and led him to the National Junior College Athletic Association Baaseball Hall of Fame. He left SFCC to become an assistant coach at SCF, then known as Manatee Community College, under Hall of Fame coach Bob Wynn.
Wynn, SCF’s first coach, departed in 1981 to pave the way for Hill to continue a winning tradition.
Hill’s teams have compiled a 1,076-467 record over 30 seasons, with Tuesday’s first day of spring practice marking the start of the 31st season.
Under Hill, SCF (formerly known as Manatee Community College) has won 17 conference crowns and six state titles and appeared in the JUCO World Series five times. Of those five trips, SCF finished second in 1991 and 2002.
His 2009 team also defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates in the annual charity game.
An emotional Hill said he’s most proud of seeing his players move on to four-year colleges and universities and some into professional baseball and becoming good husbands, fathers and productive citizens.
“That’s why we’re all here, whether you’re a baseball coach, a basketball coach or a teacher in the classroom,” Hill said. “We’re here to go ahead and advance our students to becoming productive citizens within our society.”
Part of that is the accomplishments his players have recorded in the classroom, with a cumulative 3.0 team grade-point average over the past two years.
Slugger Jonathan Griffin, a former SCF player who went on to UCF and was drafted this past summer by the Arizona Diamondbacks, said Hill maintains a presence in his players’ lives even after they leave.
“I think that’s what makes the program today,” Griffin said. “They do keep in touch with their former players.”
Hill II will become the third head coach in SCF baseball history when he assumes the position next year.
“For me, it was a no-brainer, whether his name was Hill or Jones or Smith or Martin; it was a no-brainer in who we were going to tap to become the next baseball coach,” said Hill about his son, an assistant for the past 13 seasons.
During Hill II’s tenure as an assistant, SCF has made 13 state tournament appearances, won three state titles, finished second in the state twice, finished third in the state tournament once and finished in the top three in the country two times (2002 runner-up and 1999 third place).
“I knew it was something he was considering for a little bit, and he’s still a relatively young man at 67 years old,” Hill II said. “And all along I’ve been working, they said he’s probably going to go as long as Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno and all those guys. I know it’s something he’s been thinking about, but he said he doesn’t hunt, he doesn’t fish, so what’s he going to do when he retires? We’ve had a lot of success, so there wasn’t any reason to give it up, anyway. Those discussions have been taking place for a little while.”
And while Hill II is set to continue the SCF tradition next season, the elder Hill joked about the pecking order in the dugout.
“Keep in mind, I’m still the head coach this spring,” Hill said.
That elusive national championship would provide the perfect send-off.